This has been an interesting debate. I share the view of my hon. Friend Andy McDonald that the contributions to the debate improved once we got beyond the opening contribution from the Minister, who described himself as the very model of a very modest Minister. It was rather more vaudeville than a serious contribution to what is a serious political issue: how safe and secure people feel on the streets and in their homes across all parts of the country. It is a serious issue that deserves a serious debate. To be fair, I think that all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have since contributed to the debate recognise its seriousness, and there have been some excellent contributions.
Crime rates are down, which is to be applauded. As Members have said, crime rates have been going down for many years, from the end of the Major Government, throughout the lifetime of the Labour Government and into the current coalition Government. That is to the credit of all those Governments and the actions of politicians. Most importantly, it is to the credit of the police and their partnerships with other people to ensure that the effect of their work is to make people more secure.
It is pleasing that not only are crime rates going down, but people’s sense of being safe and secure is going up, as my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi has just said, so the fear of crime is falling. That is certainly the case in the villages and towns in my constituency. That does not mean that people do not have concerns, because they do, and sadly they still suffer crime, which ruins lives and affects people badly, but the overall level is coming down, which is to be applauded and welcomed.
Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Scunthorpe, I have been privileged to spend a lot of time with the local police. I have gone out with the traffic police and I have seen the partnership work going on at Shelford house on the relationship between drugs and alcohol and antisocial behaviour and crime. I have seen the police and the local authority working together, targeting crime and reducing it across the patch. I have also seen the work of the integrated offender management system, led by the probation service but supported strongly by the police and other partners, whereby high offenders are targeted effectively to reduce the impact of their behaviour on the community, thereby reducing the level of crime as well. I have also spent time in Scunthorpe town centre on a Saturday night seeing how the night-time economy is effectively policed. That involves partnerships between the police, the door personnel across the town and the street pastors, who do a fantastic job in that work.
Finally, I have spent time going out with the respect van, which is aimed at reducing the number of young people involved in crime in the area, and that, too, has been very effective. In particular, the respect courts, which are managed by Sergeant James Main and his team, are working with the magistracy locally to see how that has effectively impacted on the behaviour of young people involved in crime, reduced it and moved them away from criminal behaviour. Indeed, the quality of that work has been recognised nationally.
In all the examples I have given of having the privilege of being alongside the local police, it is important to recognise that none of the cases involve the police acting alone; they are acting in partnership with others. It is that partnership work, which has been built up over time, that has had a significant impact on the level of crime and the fear of crime across the piece.
As has been pointed out in the debate, it is not just police budgets that are under pressure. After this debate we will move on to look at the pressure on local authority budgets. We also know that health and social housing budgets are under pressure. The cumulative effect of all those budgets being under pressure is to put at risk the partnership working that has been built up and led to the great strides forward for policing in our country. It would be unwise to say that that is not a risk. I hope that in my local area and across other parts of the country, the imagination, energy and commitment of everybody working together will find a way to maintain the good quality partnership working, rather than imperil it, which can be tempting for people when they begin to look at budgets in silos. Let us hope that that will not happen.
I have regular meetings with the chief superintendent for North Lincolnshire and I am very impressed by the way in which he and his predecessors have led their team across the patch. He told me in our last meeting that cuts of 12% have now been made across the police force in the area. He said that it had been a challenge and tough, but that it had been doable without impacting directly on front-line policing. I asked him what would happen as a result of these further cuts. He looked quizzical before answering that it cannot be guaranteed that front-line services will not be affected by further budget cuts.
It is interesting, is it not, that the 12% cuts that have been made so far are in line with those that Labour said it would make and with those that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary identified as doable without affecting the front line? That is the point we have arrived at, but we need to look forwards, rather than backwards, because this debate is about further cuts that run the risk of having a really negative impact on policing and the safety of the neighbourhoods and communities that we represent. There are already 227 fewer police officers in Humberside and there will be fewer still when the cuts are made.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are coming together to vote in favour of further police budget cuts of £2 billion over the spending review period. In effect, that means that 15,000 officers will be cut, but real cuts are already running ahead of that estimate, because 11,500 officers had already gone by September 2011. Those are significant reductions in police numbers.
We are already seeing fewer crimes being solved. The sanction detection rate is down, with 30,000 fewer crimes brought to justice, including 7,000 offences of violence against the person. It is interesting that, certainly locally, violent crimes are on a slightly upward trend. Trends in crime are complicated and it is a mixed picture. Although the general trend is down, within it there are spikes in neighbourhoods and in the type of criminal activity.
It is not just members of the public and Labour politicians who are expressing concern. As my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, the shadow Minister, has said, Conservative police and crime commissioners have spoken publicly about the need to raise their precepts to stop Government cuts harming their area. Many admit that despite precept rises, further officer reductions are likely. In the words of the Essex Conservative PCC, Nick Alston:
“Ultimately, there must be a risk that continued cuts in the number of police officers will make Essex more vulnerable to crime.”
Those are the words of people who have picked up the baton. They have looked at the books and the issues and that is what they are saying, because they are concerned to do a good job.
The danger and risk is that the cuts will mean fewer front-line officers, fewer officers responding to 999 calls, and the police being less visible and available under this Government. As my right hon. Friend said, police visibility and availability are very important commodities. They help to reassure the public, and they are essential to the health and well-being of individuals and communities across the piece.
Strangely, the figures are already worse than Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary had predicted. They are part of this Government’s ill-thought-out reforms to policing that are making it harder to become a police officer and less rewarding once people have done so. That is a real worry, because we all recognise the great work that police officers do on our behalf. As my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz pointed out, we need to have these people with us and support them so that they continue to do a great job for us into the future.